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The Executive Briefing - Tuesday, November 30th

Omicron, OSHA, and should you travel for the holidays?

ZHH News:

Flash Briefing: Omicron, OSHA, & More

Join us on Thursday, December 2nd at 3pm EST to get the latest update on Omicron, the OSHA ETS, and what employers can do now to prepare for the holiday surge. 

Register here for Thursday’s Flash Briefing. 

New Blog Post!

Need more info before Thursday? Check out our latest blog post on Omicron, covering what we know today and what you can do to help prevent outbreaks. 

COVID Recap:

  • The CDC is now recommending boosters for nearly everyone as a critical step in containing the Omicron variant.  (CDC)
  • Canada has found two cases of the Omicron variant, with other confirmed cases in the UK, Germany, and other countries. (NPR)
  • We’ve all heard by now of the flights from South Africa to the Netherlands where 61 people tested positive. Of those, 13 had the Omicron variant. (BBC)
  • The new variant underscores what many public health experts have been shouting from the rooftops - that vaccine inequity has a massive global cost. (STAT)
  • Both Pfizer and Moderna are preparing to develop modified vaccine to fight Omicron, just in case, though they’re both still hopeful that with boosters, the vaccines will hold up. (STAT)
  • Meanwhile, the fifth wave is here. NY declared a preemptive state of emergency in anticipation of the surge. (NY Times)
  • A court in California put a temporary hold on San Diego’s school vaccination mandate until they can figure out how to better handle non-religious exemptions. Governor Newsom had added COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of mandatory vaccinations for California schools in September. (Washington Post)
  • Greece mandated vaccines for everyone aged 60 and above.  (Reuters)
  • Although very preliminary, early reports indicate that Regeneron’s COVID treatment would likely be less effective against Omicron because of how they’re designed to work.  (MarketWatch)
  • Merck’s oral COVID pill isn’t working as well in the real world as initially reported, only about 30% effective at cutting down on hospitalizations and death. (NY Times)

Today’s Health News:

  • There’s a novel H1 flu infection in the US, the second of the year, in a patient who had contact with pigs at home before getting sick. This swine flu was likely not transmitted person to person. (CDC)
  • Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal disease similar to Mad Cow, has been found in deer throughout the US. While there haven’t been any cases in humans, the CDC warns against eating meat from CWD-infected animals. (CIDRAP)
  • The Wyoming Department of Health is reporting widespread Norovirus activity. They advise that employers ensure employees don’t work sick or return to work too soon. (WY News Exchange)

Best Questions:

Should we cancel international travel due to Omicron?

This depends on your risk level, where you’re headed, and why, but we definitely think it’s time to think seriously about whether it makes sense to travel internationally right now, especially if it’s to a place with rising case counts. This has just as much to do with the high case counts as it does with the new variant, but there’s no denying that COVID is surging across the globe right now. If you do travel, we recommend testing early and often, and having a solid plan for what you’ll do if you test positive at any point during your trip. Travel restrictions are changing very rapidly, so it’ll be important to keep an eye on any requirements and restrictions, too.  It’s also definitely a good idea to get your booster dose and your flu shot before you travel!

An employee’s symptoms started on Monday but they tested negative on Tuesday and Wednesday, then tested positive on Thursday. When do we start the contact tracing from?

Start the contact tracing from 48 hours before the sick employee’s symptoms started. Even though they had a few negative tests, the chances that their symptoms are unrelated to their COVID infection are incredibly small. Assume they were infectious from 48 hours before those symptoms started, despite those negative tests. Unfortunately, in a case like this, that means excluding anyone who had close contact Saturday through Thursday. This highlights that it’s incredibly important to make sure that sick employees stay home while they have symptoms, even if they test negative for COVID initially. While testing is improving, it’s not foolproof. You can avoid excluding a lot of employees if you ensure that those who feel sick aren’t coming into work. 

We’re seeing more people coming to work sick lately. Is that something other clients are seeing, too?

It’s incredibly unfortunate, but we always see an uptick in presenteeism (AKA coming to work sick) during the lead up to the holidays. Employees need the money in December, and sometimes have planned time off to spend with family, which means they feel the pressure not to miss work in the days and weeks leading up to the holidays. Now more than ever is the right time to encourage employees to stay home when sick, reiterate to managers that it’s their role to keep sick employees from working, and even to take a look at your sick leave policies. We see clearly that our clients with paid sick leave have fewer instances of employees working sick. 

A vaccinated employee has a COVID+ child that they’re caring for. Should we exclude them from work?

Not unless they have symptoms of their own. If the employee is symptom free and fully vaccinated, the current CDC guidelines allow them to work, though they should be fully masked for 14 days. CDC guidelines recommend a test between days 5-7 after initial exposure (though in this case the exposure is ongoing), and if the employee tests negative, they can work without a mask. While recommending a test is a great idea since it might catch an asymptomatic COVID case, we’ll leave that up to you and your legal team, but we do recommend requiring the mask for the full 14 days to keep it simple and reduce risk. If at any point the exposed employee develops symptoms, even if fully vaccinated, they should stay home for 10 days. 

Best Read:

The Omicron Variant: We Still Know Almost Nothing

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.